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School Bus Safety is a Shared Responsibility

Union Supports Tougher Law to Ensure School Bus Safety

The yellow school bus slows. The air compressor pops, then hisses, yet the engine rumbles along as Tom Krajewski brings the vehicle to a full stop.

"OK, I see mom," he says as he motions to a student. "You can get off the bus." The little girl scampers down the steps, her pink backpack's lights twinkling. Krajewski waits until she is out of "the danger zone" 15 feet away from the bus before he waves goodbye.

Voorheesville School District bus driver Tom Krajewski goes through the daily checklist to make sure his bus is safe and secure for his daily runs. PHOTO: Marty Kerins Jr.

Krajewski is a member of the United Employees of Voorheesville in Albany County, New York. On this run, some of his riders are not much taller than the tops of the bus seats and are small enough to sit three abreast. When the bus rounds a gentle bend, they squeal in delight. The pint-sized riders are adorable. Yet, their size puts them at the most risk for school bus-related fatality or injury.

The state’s education department analyzed school bus student fatality data compiled from 1960-2013. The resulting report showed that 70 percent of the 112 fatalities in that 53-year period were among students 4–8 years old.

"Small children are more difficult for bus drivers and other drivers to see,” says Paul Pecorale, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Vice President. “The children are also more likely to be inattentive in traffic conditions."

Pecorale’s office oversees School-Related Professionals (SRPs) issues for the union. Among most NEA affiliates, SRPs are known as education support professionals (ESPs).

"School bus safety is a multifaceted challenge that involves all of us,” he says. “It requires expert driving and management of school bus behavior. It also requires educational professionals and parents to support and reinforce safety rules for riders and for other drivers."

Support professionals who are bus drivers, monitors and attendants are trained professionals. In New York, SRPs help transport 2.3 million children each day during the school year. They complete safety training twice each school year and learn about health and safety issues, such as first aid, emergency response and how to handle student behavior.

"Your eyes are constantly moving," says Christine Allard, former president of the UE Voorheesville and a 30-year bus driver. "We have six mirrors we need to pay attention to and a seventh overhead to look at the kids. When students are not behaving, the driver's eyes are off the road."

The driver, Krajewski says, sets the tone: "I tell them, 'You can talk, but don't yell. I have to be able to hear the radio.'" As he drives his route, Krajewski constantly reinforces the rules to his riders. Glancing at the overhead mirror he says, "Sit in your seat, please," to a small rider, who sits back down quickly.

Cheryl Rockhill is a school and bus monitor in Franklin County and president of the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association.

"Our goal is to make sure the driver does not have to take his eyes off the road," says Rockhill, a NYSUT SRP Advisory Committee member. "I tell the children the bus is an extension of the school and I expect the same good behavior."

Most buses do not have attendants or monitors so it is up to the drivers to keep control, says bus driver Deb Paulin, an SRP at-large director on the NYSUT Board and president of the Alden Central School Employees Association in Erie County. She says SRPs who drive buses equipped with interior video cameras notice a difference for the better.

"The students know they are on camera. And cameras don't lie. You can see what's going on. You can see who started the fight," says Paulin. School bus drivers are also acutely aware of student safety as they enter and leave the bus.

"We count the kids as they go down the steps and get off the bus," Allard says. "We train our kids to stand 15 feet away from the bus and we count the kids a second time" before pulling away from the curb.

As a new school year starts, it’s important for parents, as well as bus drivers, to reinforce school bus safety.

"Educate your children on the dangers that exist outside the school bus," says Rockhill. "Teach your children how to cross the road properly. Students need to have eyes and ears on the driver and be able to hear." Remind teenagers to watch the driver and remove their ear buds, she adds.

Union Supports Tougher Law to Ensure School Bus Safety

An estimated 50,000 drivers illegally pass stopped school buses in New York state every day — despite flashing red lights and a paddle arm deploying a stop sign.

"Every day when I'm loading and unloading children, the cars will go through my lights, even at the school. It's a real problem," says Deb Paulin, an SRP at-large director on the NYSUT Board and president of the Alden Central School Employees Association in Erie County.

The problem is of such concern that on April 15, 2015, police from 108 agencies in 46 New York counties issued 1,186 tickets to motorists illegally passing stopped school buses during a well-publicized, one-day law enforcement and education initiative called "Operation Safe Stop."

Stop arm camera technology can record violations, but state legislation is needed to allow video and photo images to be used to issue violations. The School Bus Camera Safety Act in New York would do just that. It's currently in committee and not yet scheduled for a discussion or vote on the assembly floor.

"NYSUT staff will continue to press for passage of this important bill," says NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, whose office oversees legislative and political concerns for the union.

The act authorizes installation of video recorders on school buses and the use of the images to issue summons to drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. It also provides reimbursement to school districts purchasing this equipment. The camera-based fines would be $250 (no points) for a first offense. Repeat offenders risk having their driver's license suspended. Drivers who violate the law and injure or cause the death of another person as a result face third-degree assault or criminally negligent homicide charges.

"The safety of our students and the NYSUT members who transport them is of utmost importance," Pallotta adds.

NOTE: This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of NYSUT United.


RELATED LINKS

NEA's Education Support Professionals

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